Halestorm Interview: Lzzy Hale Talks Guitars and Childhood-Dreams-Come-True
This could happen: Lzzy Hale may turn out to be the saviour of hard rock guitar playing.
Watch the videos for her band Halestorm’s new hit, “Apocalyptic,” and take a look at the group’s Grammy-winning 2012 rocker “Love Bite’s (So Do I)” and revel in the AC/DC-like riffage, the aggression, the… uh… unabashed sex appeal. This band rocks, and this chick -- and her fellow guitarist Joe Hottinger -- might just turn the youth of the world guitar-crazy once again. From our point of view, that would be a good thing. And it could happen.
Hale and her younger brother, Halestorm drummer Arejay Hale, began playing music together at a very young age in their native Pennsylvania, writing original music and releasing their first EP in 1999, before Arejay was even in his teens. They founded Halestorm shortly thereafter and guitarist Hottinger and bassist Josh Smith joined in 2003 and 2004, respectively. The band signed to Atlantic Records in 2005.
Halestorm have just released their third full length album, Into The Wild Life, and are set to begin touring North America with The Pretty Reckless through July, followed by a European tour in August. The first single from Into The Wild Life, “Apocalyptic,” hit #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs charts just just before the album’s release.
Guitar.com spoke with Elizabeth “Lzzy” Hale about the new album, the upcoming tour, and her vast collection of guitars. We also dug into why more girls don’t move beyond strumming simple chords to rock like the hurricane that Hale is on stage, and why she likes her guitars thick and chunky. Here’s what she had to say:
Lzzy Hale: Hey Adam!
Guitar.com: Lzzy, how are ya?
Hale: Oh I'm great man. Thanks for taking the time.
Guitar.com: Yes, same to you. So where are you today?
Hale: I'm am in Nashville and it's surprisingly really nice weather. This is awesome.
Guitar.com: Yeah, I'm in Chicago and so the weathers' not too different. It's been a little funny, but generally nice in the Midwest recently.
Hale: I love Chicago. Always one of my favorite cities to visit.
Guitar.com: Yeah, it's a fun place. You don't have a Chicago date coming up.
Hale: No. I don't know why (laughs). It'll happen. We're about to really get into this tour, so it's gonna happen. Be careful what you wish for, you might be sick of us before long. (laughs)
Guitar.com: So your next show is at the Ryman in Nashville, right?
Hale: Yeah! Isn't that crazy? I can check that off the bucket list.
Guitar.com: That is very cool. It's a historic place. So are you just hanging out in Nashville until then? That's a couple weeks away.
Hale: Yeah, hanging out in Nashville. We let everybody go home and do their thing, and catch up. And probably in about a week or so we're going to start rehearsals here, and just shake off any cobwebs. Like there would be -- we just got off tour. But for whatever reason, we like to occasionally rehearse. So we'll do a few rehearsals and then kickin' it off at the Ryman. I'm super stoked about that.
Guitar.com: Yeah, that is cool. So do you have any guests coming down? Is Eric Church gonna join you?
Hale: He might. I don't know. He's kind of sneaky like that. We haven't discussed any collaboration, but he had definitely said he was going to try to come. He might just be a spectator.
Guitar.com: So are you doing some songwriting while you're sitting around down there?
Hale: There's always something, especially whenever we have any type of time off. As soon as we settle in. It's nice to just get out little ideas that I've collected on the road. When you're on the road it's really hard to sit down and demo something. It's easier on the road just to casually record something into your phone, like half-songs here and there. Very rarely do we complete a collection of songs, like, done -- on the road.
So it is nice to just kind of settle in and have a little bit of creative purging before we go back on the road. To see if we can complete an idea.
Guitar.com: You've probably got a bunch of ideas in your cell phone...
Hale: Yeah. Some better than others. Some are like drunken ramblings that I think are really good ideas, and then the next day I'm like, 'Oh yeah, that was like a cool title, let me see what I hummed into my phone...' And then (I listen back and) I'm like, 'No, I can't even tell what the hell I'm doin'' So some are better than others, obviously. But yeah, I have a ton of stuff on my phone, for better or worse.
Guitar.com: Well Steven Tyler is in Nashville writing songs for his new country album. Maybe you can hook up and do some stuff with him...
Hale: That would be awesome, actually. What a dude. You know, it's funny: The way that country music is, especially out here right now, it's kind of going back to this almost roots-rock thing. So really, Steven Tyler was never that far off from any type of that -- I don't know. He almost lends himself to that whole kind of, almost-country... It's almost the country guys want to be Aerosmith and Bon Jovi right now. So really, he's not going to have to do anything too different. (laughs)
Watch Halestorm's Music Video for "Apocalyptic"
Guitar.com: Right. So tell me about your guitars. I know you've got the beautiful signature model Explorer.
Hale: Yeah. That's awesome man. I'd been wanting to do something like that since I was a kid. So when Gibson approached me to make a signature guitar, of course, I did like a double-take, look over my shoulder, like, "Are they talking to me? Is Slash behind me?"
And then they're like, "Take some time. Maybe next month give us a call and give us your facts as far as what you want to do." And I'm like, "I'll have it for you tomorrow!"
So it was really one of those kind of childhood-dream-come-true situations. And they've all been super supportive of me and my band. The coolest thing though, about putting out a signature model guitar -- and maybe because I'm a girl, I don't know -- but there's all these little kids that are coming to our shows who got it for Christmas, and they're starting a band, and they're sending me clips of them performing. Like these little girls, and these little guys that got this guitar.
I was having a conversation with this 14-year-old girl the other day, and she just had her first gig ever. And she got one of my signature model guitars and used it and then she tweeted me and sent me a picture of her playing it. And I'm like, "That's what this is about! That's why you put out signature guitars. This is what it's all about!" To me, that just makes my world.
Guitar.com: Lzzy, I've been in the guitar industry for a long time, and I'm a player, and I've taught, and wrote books and all that -- and it's always just been puzzling to me why there aren't more girls who take it as far as you've taken it. And I'm not talking career-wise, because that's a tricky thing. But I'm talking playing-wise. Especially young girls, they get into the whole acoustic thing, and they do what I call the "strumming" thing -- but they don't rock, you know? And why not? I don't get that.
Hale: You know I'm not quite sure. It's one of those conversations that I have with a lot of people and a lot of my peers, and something I think about. I think it boils down to, just, generationally, and the way that we've evolved as parents of each generation. I think that traditionally girls aren't necessarily encouraged to get into rock and roll. I don't know whether it's because it's a dangerous choice (laughs).
It's not necessarily the ideal, "Oh, I'm letting my little girl be in a rock band and hang with these guys, and there's probably going to be drugs and alcohol available." It's like this traditional, "We should protect her" kind of mentality. And it's safer to encourage her to, you know, "Oh yeah, you can play guitar, but only if you listen to Jewel," (laughs) and that type of situation.
I was very lucky in my childhood because I had parents who -- I look back on it now, and I'm thinking "My parents had this childish, reckless abandon." Probably most people would be like, "That's bad parenting. They're letting you start a rock band?"
We made our own pyro, thanks to my Dad helping us build a small little cannon. But looking back on it, I'm so incredibly grateful that I had parents that didn't necessarily think like parents, and were almost just overjoyed that we found something that we loved, and that they actually loved. I think my Dad's biggest fear was that I was going to become a doctor or a lawyer, something he knew nothing about.
So, my Dad being a bass player, and my parents just being rock fans, encouraged us to do this. And they were always like, "Look, if you don't try, now, you're always going to wonder. There's always time to go back to college, go get a real job, that type of thing."
So I was encouraged to do what I wanted to do. And I was always a little bit of a tomboy when it came to rock and roll too. A lot of my influences weren't necessarily the girls on that side, it was a lot of the guys. It was a lot of Dio, and Deep Purple, and Vanilla Fudge, and that kind of weightiness. You know: Black Sabbath. That kind of weightiness of the classic rock.
So I think that it's starting to get better now because people that are my age are having kids now, and remember what it was like, maybe if they didn't have the same situation that I did. We do see a lot of kids come to the rock shows with their parents. I think that it's going to get better with each generation, it's just very slow moving.
Guitar.com: Your Dad actually played in your band, when you were teenagers, until you got a bass player, right?
Hale: Yeah. My poor Dad. We started the band when I was 13, and this was still like a time when, like, "Yeah man! It's cool to have Dad in the band. That's cool!" And then over the period of like a year, you grow up and you become 14 or 15, where it's totally not cool to be hanging out with your Dad.
So my poor Dad was all so stoked to be in the band, and then in like a year's time, we were like, "Dad, we've got to find people our own age." So I feel so bad, because he totally was bummed. And we were like, "Dad, you can run sound though! We'll get a little board, and you can run our sound!" But he was horrible at running sound.
So eventually we're like, "Dad, you can't run sound anymore, but you can help us drive the van!" He just wanted to be in, you know, and we were just kind of like, "Let him live it a little bit."
So I ended up taking both my parents out on tour with us for years, even after we ended up getting signed. Just to let 'em live it a little bit. Get them some jobs and let them do their thing. And now both of my parents are retired from the road. It gets a little much.
But to me it was almost a way of giving back a little bit. They did sacrifice a lot, and they got a lot of flack, when we started the band, from other parents, like, "What are you doing?" So that was almost in a way, the pay off, like, "Here you go. Be a rock star for a second."
Guitar.com: Well, they helped you get to the dream you wanted to live, right?
Hale: Yeah. And if you think about it, growing up, and I have been referring to myself as more or less a reformed introvert. I was a very shy kid when I was growing up. And it took being in this band and finding this thing that I love, and the one thing -- and believe me, I'm horrible at most other things -- the one thing that I could do really well, and really being encouraged to move forward with that. I really do believe that if we had started this band, and my parents had been like, "Hell no!" I probably would have waited a couple years to fully rebel, and just do it. And so I'm very thankful that I didn't have parents that shot me down.
Guitar.com: Very cool. So, back to the gear -- what are you playing besides the Explorer? Do you bring other guitars on the road?
Hale: Oh yeah. They're mostly Gibson. My newest addition to my family is a Gibson SG double neck, but it's a standard, and baritone on the bottom. It's a beast, and if I have back problems when I'm older, it's because of this guitar. But I got it made specifically for one of our new songs on our record called, "I Am The Fire."
Watch Halestorm perform "I Am The Fire"
And basically how I did it in the studio was all baritone. In the beginning of the song there's kind of like this six-fret stretch arpeggio thing that I'm doing. And it worked in the studio -- and believe me, mind over matter, you can do anything. Nothing's impossible. But I thought, 'Man, wouldn't it be cool to just kind of have it open and a little more ringing out live." So I ended up making this guitar and it's beautiful. I used a lot of the same esthetics that are on my Explorer. It's white and gold, and it looks pretty -- I'm a girl, after all. But it's an awesome guitar.
Besides that I have a Les Paul baritone... It depends on the tour. I have a lot of guitars. I probably have upwards of 30-something guitars over the years, a lot of Les Pauls of various years. I have an '84 silver burst Les Paul. I have a Les Paul Supreme, 2012. Let's see: I have a 2001 Les Paul...
Guitar.com: Did you grow up playing Les Pauls?
Hale: Yeah. My first guitar, ever, that I bought, was a used B.C. Rich Mockingbird. And I played that for a couple of years and saved up and my first Gibson was a '91 tobacco burst Les Paul Custom. I still have it. And it still has this amazing warm tone. I'll probably end up bringing that out at some point in time.
You know, you collect guitars. I haven't really given any of my guitars away. Maybe one. There was one. There was a tribal Flying V, with like a Kahler set up on it, that I ended up getting at one point in time. And I used it for the "I Get Off" video, and then it just went to shit. There was no getting any love on that guitar, so I ended up just giving that one away.
Watch Halestorm's music video for "I Get Off"
But for the most part, I've kept everything. So it's a matter of what I want to bring out for each tour. I have an SG as well.
Guitar.com: Isn't the Explorer pretty heavy? It's a solid Mahogany body...
Hale: Yeah. It's a nice chunk of wood. It's something that I'm attracted to in guitars, having that weightiness. I don't like guitars that feel like toys. I don't know why. But I just never have, even as a teenager. And again, I can attribute any back problems to my taste in guitars.
But there's something about it. And the reason that I chose the Explorer, and that classic metal shape, for my signature, is because it kind of had started to become my go-to guitar. It's very comfortable. When you put it on, it kind of feels like home. And as much as I have a love for Les Pauls, I really wanted to do something different for my signature, and almost mock it off of, almost make it look like a Les Paul Custom, with the binding and everything, and the weightiness to it. But obviously I classed it up a bit with the white and the gold, while keeping that classic jagged-edge, metal type shape -- you feel like James Hetfield (laughs).
I think it's got a great balance, and it's definitely one of those guitars that you can see from the back row. I love that about it too.
Guitar.com: What amps are you using on tour?
Hale: I'm using Marshall JCM800s. I'm kind of a meat and potatoes type chick when it comes to my gear. Like I will outwardly admit that my favorite pedal is my tuner (laughs). It's the most amazing pedal ever, it makes everything sound good!
My distortion pedal or any type of effects that I end up adding on top of my sound, change with the weather. I'm always kind of searching for different sounds, but it's really hard to settle. Really the only thing that I've been consistently satisfied with is the combination of whatever guitar I'm using, and my Marshall amp. For whatever reason, that's been my go-to, my comfort zone. And I love switching up the guitars in between songs, depending on the song. So really the tone starts and ends with whatever guitar I'm using through that amp.
That being said, there are a couple pedals that we're looking into, just because there's new songs to be had. Joe and I are kind of brainstorming over the time off here how to make sure that we do these new songs justice, and who is going to play which parts. We do that a lot: in the studio, whatever we wrote, we'll play. But then when we go out to play live, we'll sometimes switch it up. I'll be playing his parts, he'll be playing mine. So really anything goes. It depends on what serves the song.
Guitar.com: So if you were going to play a show tonight, what pedals would you have on the floor in front of you?
Hale: What would I have? I have an MXR line boost that I use for the solos and stuff like that. And a friend of mine is letting me use his Klon, which is an amazing pedal, because it is a distortion pedal, but to me, all it really does, is it just enhances the sound without masking what's actually coming out of the amp. So it really just sounds like my amp, but better. So I'm definitely digging that right now.
And I'm using -- in a couple songs -- a Dunlop Jerry Cantrell wah, which is an awesome sounding wah, but it's also super comfortable if I do decide to wear (laughs) a high heel. That's a must for the wah pedal -- if you wanted to know that by the way (laughs). That's the perfect wah for that, If you ever decide to wear high heels! (laughs)
Guitar.com: I see. Maybe I'll try that someday... Or maybe not. So did you also play all the keyboards in the studio?
Hale: Yes. Honestly it was between me, and my bass player, Josh, can also play piano. And then some of the organ parts that you hear were played by our producer, Jay Joyce. It was really funny: We did this record so much differently than the last two. We ended up doing all the basic tracks live, with the four of us standing in the same room. Jay Joyce's studio is a reformed church, here in Nashville. So the main recording room is the congregation room. So it's just beautiful.
And we're all standing in a circle and just playing these songs as a performance, front to back. Live, to each other. And so there would be the occasional time when we're jamming and recording, and all of the sudden we'd hear this Hammond organ, just out of nowhere. And we'd look around and there's Jay, just frickin' jammin' with us, just being a fifth member. So depending on the song, it was between the three of us.
This process was extremely freeing. It was anything goes, chase after whatever gets you excited. There was no real structure and rules, other than the fact that we had a deadline. So we had a lot of fun doing it. And everything was always set up and ready to record, so if all the sudden you had a whim, like, "Oh man, we need this keyboard part right here!" "Oh OK, well just go over and do it. It's already set up." So it was a lot of fun to just chase after whatever makes us tick.
Guitar.com: How did you get the isolation to be able to re-do a vocal line or whatever?
Hale: That's funny, because we didn't. The only things that were really isolated were the guitar amps, which were in another room, and so we had them through the cans. But a lot of the things that you'll hear -- we can hear them in certain tracks. There is a lot of room noise, and there is the occasional song where you can hear somebody yelling at someone. Or you hear my vocals coming through the drum mic.
It was a true testament to the mixing process too. This was a scary way to record. We've never done something like this without it being a live record. We wanted to bridge the gap between what people see live and what people have heard on our records. And definitely with our last two records, The Strange Case Of..., and our debut, were recorded differently. We recorded everything separately and then we pieced it together, like most people do -- put it in Pro Tools and make everything perfect, and then there you go.
Halestorm in the studio making Into The Wild Life:
And we completely did the opposite on this record, and were more or less erring on the side of making moments, and this human element, and making sure there was personality -- and capturing that, vs. chasing after perfection. So there's a lot of things on this record that are very warts and all. There are certain songs that we were playing 40 takes, and had to, like, "Try again tomorrow."
And then there were some songs that we got it in two takes, and it was awesome. It was very play by ear and let's just see where it goes.
Guitar.com: As a songwriter, do you come up with a lot of the initial riffs and things?
Hale: Yeah. Honestly there's many ways to skin that cat. I write in all sorts of ways, and again it's chasing things that get you excited. And it's taken me a long time to get there as a songwriter. I remember early on, especially right after we got signed, and there was a little bit of pressure to prove yourself, you're sitting down and you're like, "I'm gonna write a hit song today!"
And now I'm going to sit down and I'm going to write something, and I don't care whether it's a hit song or not -- I'm gonna finish it. So in my apartment right now there are guitars all over the place. Pretty much every room has a guitar. And it's great because you can just be walking around, pick it up off the wall, and just start playing.
I have a lot of kind of '70s/'80s influence in what I do. I've always had kind of a dated, interest in rock. I still listen to Judas Priest. I still listen to Dio. A lot of my riffs are kind of -- you can still hear that. It's simple but it's got kind of this weightiness to it. For instance there's a song on our new record that was written in about 15 minutes off of this riff that I had. And it's funny because when I listen to it, I hear a white girl riff. (laughs) But the guys loved it, and we ended up playing it. It kind of sounds a little Tomahawk-ish, like you're cheering on a game or something...
But inspiration comes from everywhere, and I think the point is -- and I'll tell this to anybody -- is don't pick up a guitar with a plan. Just sit down and play, and something is gonna happen. But the initial move is to pick up the guitar and play.
And then as far as Joe and I -- our relationship as the two guitar players in the band -- like I said before, we definitely work together. We're showing each other riffs all the time. We teach each other each others' riffs all the time. And then decide how to go out and perform them. We've done a lot of that before, where we'll both write our parts, we'll come together and write it together, or when we write our parts separately sometimes we'll end up switching: I'll play his and he'll play mine. It's all relative to how we're feeling at the time.
Watch the video for Halestorm's Grammy-Winning “Love Bites (So Do I)”
Guitar.com: So you've been out on tour with the Pretty Reckless this year.
Hale: We're about to, actually. The Ryman will be the first show with them.
Guitar.com: Oh, OK. I thought I saw that you'd already done some shows together. But that's gonna be a lot of fun, right?
Hale: That's gonna be awesome. I was just talking to her (Pretty Reckless singer Taylor Momsen) yesterday. We had kind of a mutual interview-chat on the phone. Basically we had a conversation and there was a guy there taking notes (laughs). And she's awesome. She's this very spunky young woman that has thrown away everything that would have made probably her life easier, for rock and roll. And I think that's really cool.
And we had this conversation about us being two of the very few bands, even in the rock world today, that don't rely on any tracks. No trickery. It's just plug in and play and see what you get. And things either go amazing, or horribly wrong -- and that's rock and roll.
And so we had that conversation too. It's gonna be a lot of fun.
Guitar.com: Did you know Taylor before?
Hale: We had met in passing at a couple awards shows. But we had never actually hung out. So we were discussing yesterday how we're excited to get to know each other, and hang out. Really, on the spectrum of rock and roll vs. metal-hardcore, hard rock -- it's nice to have a kindred spirit, and somebody that's in that same vein as you and has a lot of that same mentality, and love of rock and roll, from a girl's perspective.
She's very much like me. She hangs with boys and there's definitely no prissy bitches (laughs) on this tour. It's going to be awesome, and we're excited to kind of hold that flag.
Guitar.com: Cool. So congratulations on the new album doing so well. The song "Apocalyptic" is killer, as well as the rest of the album.
Hale: Well thank you so much.
Guitar.com: Thank you so much for your time Lzzy.
Hale: At any time darling. I'll talk about guitars and music all day, to anyone, so it's really nice to have somebody listen.
Guitar.com: OK, well hopefully we'll meet when you come to Chicago Lzzy.
Hale: Absolutely. We'll make it happen. Take care.
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